Matthew McConaughey as you've never seen him before - now there's a promise that will either set pulses racing or have people reaching for the antacids. Here's the twist: eye candy fans will likely be disappointed (and definitely shocked), but any hardy cult movie lover who wants to see a classic example of an actor taking a hammer to his rom-com leading man image will find this noir thriller-come-blackest comedy from French Connection and Exorcist director Friedkin has much to offer.

Chris Smith (Hirsch) is a small-time Texas drug dealer whose mother has taken his stash of cocaine. The leg breakers want their money back, and he has no way of paying. Smith does, however, come from a close family, with father Ansel (Haden Church), sister Dottie (Temple) and stepmother Sharla (Gershon) happy to go along with his plan to have momma killed so that Dottie can receive the $50,000 life insurance policy. He even has the killer lined up: Joe Cooper, a Stetson-wearing man in black who charges $25,000 up front for his services and comes highly recommended. Cooper's a real multi-tasker, and when he's not making murders look like accidents, he's working a very demanding full-time job which dovetails very nicely with his lucrative sideline: as a detective with the Dallas Police Department.

Friedkin turns 77 in August, but you'd never guess watching Killer Joe. It snarls with the hunger of a young director and makes you wonder why he hasn't made more movies like this and less of Rules of Engagement, The Hunted etc. Originally a play by Pulitzer winner Tracy Letts (who also worked with Friedkin on Bug), this story of bottom feeders who let a black-gloved genie out of the bottle allows Friedkin to explore familiar themes of obsession and redemption, with the expectation that the get-rich-quick scheme will end very badly building with each piece of dialogue from the excellent Hirsch, Haden Church, Temple and Gershon, and every shot of McConaughey as Joe. Part-Dracula, part-Max Cady from Cape Fear, McConaughey's performance in this warped Cinderella story will hopefully lead to more excursions on roads less travelled, and it's something more than a coincidence that much of his best work - Dazed and Confused, Lone Star, Frailty, this - has been set in his home state of Texas. Maybe he should try directing himself there...

Sandwiched in between blockbusters in the release schedule, Killer Joe is an oddity that will pick up a following among those who like their movies grim. But be warned: the bloody and harrowing ending (it received the strictest US rating, NC-17, for the violence - physical and sexual), won't do much for the squeamish, or those watching on a full stomach. And no matter how tough you think you are, you may never look at - or taste - fried chicken without thinking of McConaughey again.

Do not bring a date.

Harry Guerin